Scott Paton

First Word

by Scott Madison Paton

Quality Curmudgeon?

It's difficult to be the editor of Quality Digest and not be demanding. I pity those who dare to give me bad service. I take my obligation as a customer seriously. If I believe that I have received poor service or buy a low-quality product, I make sure somebody knows about it. Am I just a chronic complainer? No. I prefer to think of myself as a quality curmudgeon.

If you look up the dictionary definition of curmudgeon, you'll find that it refers to a "surly, ill-mannered, bad-tempered person." Me? Surly? Although my co-workers may find this definition to be accurate the morning after a late-night deadline, I'm generally sweet-natured. Just don't give me bad service.

I'm every fast-food, drive-through order taker's nightmare. I won't hesitate to get out of my car and go talk to the always-harried manager. And while I will demand retribution if short-changed, I rarely let the cashier know that he or she has given me too much change&emdash;I like to think of it as the cost of poor quality.

I am particularly intolerant of poor service at hotels. While I may let so-so service slide at a $4.95 lunch, I find it difficult to pay $150 a night for poor service. In fact, I like to make hotels earn their money. I will record examples of poor service and kindly relay them to the managers when checking out. (Tip: It often results in one or more nights' free lodging.) My biggest pet peeve: For $150 a night, you think I could be trusted with a real coat hanger! Runner-up: Is it so hard for hotel restaurants to find servers who actually speak the English language, especially when you've ordered a $10 bowl of oatmeal?

Why can't hotels benchmark rental car companies and have the key to your room ready to hand to you as you walk in the door? Just why does it take up to 45 minutes to check in to a hotel when they know you are coming and have your credit card number on file?

Airlines also face the wrath of this quality curmudgeon. Why don't they have the nerve to enforce their carry-on baggage requirements? I never fail to be amazed at my fellow passengers struggling to carry their bulging garment bags onto the plane two minutes before departure. Inevitably, the passenger is frustrated because there is no place to stow his or her bags, the flight attendants make three requests for passengers to take their seats so we can "have an on-time departure," and the bag usually ends up falling on someone's head when the passenger gets up to retrieve the ubiquitous PC from the overhead bin later in flight.

We live in a marvelous age. We can travel from San Francisco to New York in six hours. Why is it so difficult for people to wait 15 minutes to claim their baggage at their destination? I'd hate to be crossing the plains in a covered wagon with some of these people.

Tired of my tirade? I am disdainful of people who constantly complain and do nothing to improve the situation. That's why when I do receive poor service, I make a point of telling those with the authority to improve the situation. I rarely vent my frustrations on those who deliver the poor service because they are merely the products of poor training and poor processes.

I fully believe that customers have a responsibility to their suppliers to inform them of poor quality. The message will eventually sink in.

If you'd like to share your service quality philosophy, e-mail me at spaton@